9 things to do with an old bouquet of flowers

It’s hard to be unhappy receiving a bouquet of fresh flowers; they’re beautiful for decorating, smell lovely, and associated with special occasions. As with anything, they have a carbon footprint and there is waste in their production; there is waste in the upstream, before the flowers ever reach the recipient, and waste after they wilt.


Flowerpetal.com is frequently cited as claiming that sending Valentine’s Day flowers each year adds 9,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the environment from field to U.S. florist. Unfortunately, this information doesn’t seem to be available on the website anymore so as to how they arrived at this number, we can’t be sure. The impact of cut flowers on climate change is due to energy use, transportation, refrigeration and inputs like fertilizers (X). While the exact impact of any particular bouquet depends on where it was grown, how far it traveled, and more, we do know that many flowers are grown in artificial environments requiring artificial lighting and heating. According to the Society of American Florists, 64% of cut flowers in the US are imported, and of the flowers grown domestically, 76% are grown in California, meaning you’re more likely than not to purchase flowers that traveled from another country and even if you pick something grown domestically, it may have still traveled a great distance.

When it comes to buying fresh cut flowers in the future, the truth is that we can easily refuse and not purchase; some of us are able to plant our own flowers for cutting or buy local flowers when they’re in season. Other than that, independently certified flowers are a viable option. Florverde, for example, is a sustainable horticulture certification with standards on management, labor, water management, health and safety, energy efficiency and carbon footprint, waste management, and more. Considering the emissions from the production of cut flowers, producers must prove they have taken steps to reduce their dependence on nonrenewable energy in favor of renewable energy and must have a “program in place to reduce or offset the emissions through local or regional initiatives aimed at capturing carbon dioxide.” In other words, carbon capture and carbon offset, which serve to reduce the impact of production by zeroing out or reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted (X).

Regardless of where your flowers come from, a bouquet has only lived half its life by the time it begins to wilt, so check out the following ways to continue using the resource you have:

Dried flowers

I love to decorate with dried flowers, especially bouquets or individual flowers from special moments. The easiest way to dry out an entire bouquet is to bind the stems tightly at the bottom and hang it upside down somewhere dry and dark for a few weeks, or up to a month. Drying flowers flat is an option too; this is even simpler, assuming the flowers are small and not bulky, and all you have to do is tuck them between the pages of a book for a few weeks.


Large bouquets are easy to decorate with, but for smaller flowers or dried flower petals there are other options. Dried flower petals are a zero waste alternative to confetti, although it might be difficult to amass enough dried flower petals to throw very much. Other options include adding them to a soak in the bath or making your own bath salts.


It’s not just for grandmas anymore! That is, if enough of us make some. Dried flowers and citrus fruits are perfect for adding to potpourri. While both of these materials are technically compostable, they may as well be used as much as possible, especially for those of us who live far from anywhere citrus grows or with flowers that have already completed a long journey.  

rose water

If you’re into natural beauty, making your own rose water is very easy and many people find it irreplaceable in their skincare routine. Rose water often has a light pink color and sweet smell.

edible flowers

Let’s preface this by saying that not all flowers are edible. If you happen to know exactly what flowers are in your bouquet, even better. If not, proceed with caution while trying to identify them. Roses are edible, as are flowers like marigolds. Be sure to double check, and it might be best to stick to eating homegrown flowers. Flower petals can be added to ice for the most elegant ice cubes you’ve ever seen, and roses can even be brewed into tea. Here are two places to check if your flowers fall in this category (1, 2).

the seeds

If you have any space for gardening or flower pots, save the seeds from your flowers to try and replant them. While I haven’t been able to save any seeds from a flower bouquet, it’s a low risk way to try and start a new plant.

plant dyes

For anyone particularly crafty, many plants can be used to make natural clothing dyes. Once again, it helps to know exactly what is in your bouquet, but if you do, you may find the flowers are useful once they’re no longer beautiful enough to display. For some common flower dyes, check here.

decorate gifts and cards


If you attempted a zero waste holiday season last year, you probably came across brown paper and sprigs of dried plants as suggested gift wrapping. The combination is simple and charming, and small flower and leafy cuttings can be saved and dried as detailed above to use as decoration on gifts or cards.

wall art

As before, dried flowers can be used to decorate. Blogger Julie Blanner has a DIY for making botanical wall art from actual plants rather than printing or buying prints. It didn’t take long at all and the result is better than I expected. I chose to skip the adhesive part of her instructions and opted to mount mine in a firmly closed frame.

the vase

If your flowers came with a vase, keep it for future use. If it’s not to your taste and you’re absolutely sure it has no use in your home, I suggest donating it or giving it to a friend because it is still a reusable resource. While glass and plastic vases are often recyclable, it’s much greener to keep them in use.


If your flowers came as a bouquet wrapped in plastic, consider saving the plastic to reuse. You may be able to use it as gift wrap or filler next time you send a package. Unfortunately, this plastic is bound for landfill eventually and is not recyclable.


Finally, our last resort is the compost. Composting is a great way to dispose of organic material, and for the stems, leaves, or failed DIYs, the compost bin is a better resting place than the garbage for your bouquet.

A bouquet of flowers doesn’t need to be waste as soon as the flowers begin to wilt; they can continue adding beauty and even utility to your space for long after. I hope you’ve enjoyed your flowers thus far, and happy zero wasting!